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Ga. college system approves higher student fees

POSTED: December 18, 2008 5:00 a.m.



ATLANTA - Georgia college students will pay more fees and employees will shell out hundreds more dollars for health care under stopgap budget measures passed by the state Board of Regents on Wednesday.

With little discussion, the board hurriedly approved the increases to help fill a $186 million hole created by state budget cuts. The university system already cut 6 percent, or $136 million, from this year's budget in October, but now the board is cutting another 2 percent, or $46 million, in anticipation of further reductions from the state.

"These are extraordinary and unusual times," Regents Chairman Richard Tucker said during the conference call meeting. "We have to do what we have to do. This is not being done lightly."

Under the plan passed unanimously by the board, students will pay between $50 and $100 per semester in new fees, depending on where they attend college. The new fees are not covered by the HOPE scholarship.

The move is expected to raise about $20 million from the 283,000 students attending public colleges and universities this year. Students pay an average of $4,087 in tuition annually to attend public four-year colleges, but that figure doesn't include fees, room and board, according to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

It comes as Georgia's students, faculty and staff struggle with a slumping economy and a more difficult job market. But the state's higher education leaders said they had little choice but to raise fees.

"We all regret the timing, but it was absolutely necessary," said Michael Adams, president of the University of Georgia, the state's flagship institution.

"I think there are no more rabbits in the hat at this point," he said. "The combination of another 2 percent in cuts and the reductions we've already seen meant that to maintain quality we had to do something like this."

The vote came on the same day a study was released by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education that flunked every state but California on the affordability of public and private colleges. The grade was based on how much of the average family's income it costs to go to college. That figure was up almost everywhere, according to the survey.

Georgia students called the new fees unfair, especially when their families are struggling to make ends meet in the nation's souring economy.

"This places a hardship on our families," said Nick Wellkamp, a Georgia Tech senior and student body president from Louisville, Ky. "The last thing we should be doing in times like these when money is tight is ratcheting up student fees."

In addition, 36,000 college and university employees will pay more of their health care costs. The board reduced the employer contribution to employee health insurance from 75 percent to 70 percent.

That means an employee will pay between $201 and $787 more annually for doctor's visits and prescriptions, said Usha Ramachandran, the university system's vice chancellor for fiscal affairs.

Brenda Keen, a staff member at the University of Georgia and treasurer for the university system's staff council, said it's unwelcome news for employees.

"The less people make, the harder the impact is going to be on them," she said. "I really feel for the lower-level employees because some of them may have to forgo health insurance to be able to cover the rest of their bills, which is a sad state of affairs."

Chancellor Erroll B. Davis said the measures might not be the end of the financial woes for the 35-campus system. State budget officials are still unsure exactly how much money they'll have to cut from state agencies and departments, Davis said.

"It's a moving target," he said. "While we wish we did not have to do these things, we certainly think they are essential to maintaining quality."

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